E-commerce sales surpassed 10% of total retail sales in 2019 for the first time

E-commerce sales surpassed 10% of total retail sales in 2019 for the first time

The US retail industry was estimated to have recorded almost $1.5 trillion in sales in Q4 2019, with e-commerce contributing over $187 billion, according to the US Census Bureau.

Estimated US E Commerce Sales

The overall industry's sales grew 4% year-over-year (YoY), a notable improvement from Q4 2018 when total retail grew just 3.4% annually. Meanwhile, e-commerce grew much faster in Q4 2019 and also bested its Q4 2018 results, posting a 16.4% YoY growth rate compared with the 10.8% YoY growth of the previous year.

Q4 2018's performance was a steep deceleration from Q4 2017, when total retail sales surged by 5.1% YoY and e-commerce sales increased by 16.5% annually, so Q4 2019's return to acceleration is surely a positive sign for retailers.

Here are three major takeaways based on the US retail industry's recently reported performance for Q4 2019 and 2019 overall.

  • E-commerce cracked 10% of total retail sales in 2019, and its performance is still propelling the overall industry's growth. The segment accounted for approximately 11% of total retail sales in 2019, up from its previous high of 9.9% in 2018. And e-commerce sales grew 14.9% for the year, accelerating from its 13.6% increase a year ago, while total retail sales growth in 2018 actually decelerated from 4.7% in 2018 to 3.4% in 2019. Because merchants must embrace e-commerce to boost their own growth, the roles of solutions providers like BigCommerce and Shopify, as well as marketplaces like Amazon, could expand further in the coming years, due to their ability to help merchants without the resources to develop their own e-commerce platforms to begin selling online.
  • The industry managed to elevate its performance in Q4 despite the short holiday schedule. There were six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2019 than there were in 2018, and since Thanksgiving can serve as a milestone that triggers holiday shopping, the abridged holiday season could have limited retailers' ability to rack up lucrative holiday sales. Merchants seem to have overcome this obstacle considering the industry's improved performance in the holiday quarter. Further, this season's success indicates that deploying tactics like offering sales early - Walmart launched its holiday deals in October this year - should be implemented in years with longer holiday schedules too, in hopes of extending the holiday season and creating more sales opportunities.
  • While e-commerce is a key growth driver for retailers, offline retail remains the largest sales opportunity - making an omnichannel approach key to a merchant's success. Retail sales other than e-commerce made up 89% of 2019's sales, so brick-and-mortar retail remains the focal point of US retail. This is likely why e-tailers like Amazon and several digital brands and payments companies like Stripe have been pushing into physical stores, since it gives them access to the channel and another way to attract volume. Since we are likely still decades away from e-commerce bringing in the majority of retail sales, sellers looking to maximize their performances should be working to sell both online and in-store in order to tap into e-commerce's growth and physical retail's size, while also developing offerings like click-and-collect to take advantage of the strengths of both channels.

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